September 19, 2001, Wednesday
A NATION CHALLENGED: THE INVESTIGATION; Officials Say 2 More Jets May
Have Been in the Plot
By DAVID JOHNSTON and JAMES RISEN (NYT) 1485 words
WASHINGTON, Sept. 18 --
Federal authorities said today that they were investigating the
possibility that terrorists might have plotted to commandeer two more
commercial flights on the day that four planes were hijacked and used in
attacks on New York and the Pentagon.
Law enforcement officials said they were taking
the possibility of other hijack targets seriously, based on information
from several sources, including citizens' tips and information from
One flight under investigation is American
Airlines Flight 43, which left Newark International Airport about 8:10
a.m. bound for Los Angeles; it made an emergency landing in Cincinnati
after the government ordered all flights grounded.
The other flight is American Airlines
Flight 1729 from Newark to San Antonio via Dallas that was scheduled to
depart at 8:50 a.m. and was later forced to land at St. Louis.
Attorney General John Ashcroft acknowledged
that the authorities were investigating whether other aircraft besides
the four might have been targeted. But, Mr. Ashcroft added, ''we are not
able at this time to confirm that.''
Mr. Ashcroft said that 75 people who might
have information in the case were in custody on immigration charges, and
reports of new arrests came in today from Los Angeles, Detroit and
As investigators continued to make arrests
and conduct searches, law enforcement officials acknowledged that the
F.B.I.'s efforts to conduct electronic surveillance of foreign terrorists
in the United States had been troubled in recent months, prompting an
internal inquiry into possible abuses.
Justice Department and F.B.I. officials,
who acknowledged the existence of the internal investigation, said the
inquiry had forced officials to examine their monitoring of several
suspected terrorist groups, among them Al Qaeda, the network led by Osama
bin Laden, and Hamas, the militant Palestinian group. Al Qaeda is the
group that President Bush and others have cited for last week's attacks.
Senior F.B.I. and Justice Department
officials said that they had not allowed the internal investigation of
terrorism-related wiretaps to affect their ability to monitor Al Qaeda or
Hamas. But other officials said the inquiry might have hampered
electronic surveillance of terror groups.
The matter remains highly classified.
The officials said the internal inquiry was
opened in part because of legal problems arising from the government's
investigation into the 1998 bombings of two American Embassies in East
Africa, involving Al Qaeda members
Today, law enforcement officials said that
the evidence of a broader plot in the airliner hijackings was suggestive
but inconsistent. In the case of American Airlines Flight 1729, the
authorities have detained two men from the flight who were arrested
aboard an Amtrak train in Fort Worth after their flight had been forced
to land in St. Louis. The two men, identified as Ayubali Ali Kahn and
Mohammed Jaweed Azmath, were the only people aboard the flight who
appeared to be suspicious; each of the other flights had hijack teams of
four or five men.
A senior F.B.I. official said today that
the authorities were examining hundreds of e-mail messages to and from
the suspected hijackers and their known associates.
The messages were mainly in English and
Arabic, said the official, who would not describe the content aside from
saying that the messages were provided by large Internet service
American intelligence officials also said
today that they had received a report that Mohamed Atta, a suspected
hijacker on American Airlines Flight 11, which struck the World Trade
Center North Tower, met several months ago with an Iraqi intelligence
official in Europe. The American officials said the report of the meeting
had been received in the last few days.
The officials said they were not sure of
the purpose of the meeting, if it did occur, and were investigating the
possible connection. They emphasized that it did not prove that Iraq
played a role in the attacks.
In addition to the two men who were
arrested on the Amtrak train and taken to New York as material witnesses
in the investigation, federal agents have also taken to New York for
questioning a man who was arrested in Minnesota in mid-August on a
passport violation after he sought training on a airplane flight
The man, Zacarias Moussaoui, apparently
raised suspicion at the Pan Am International Flight Academy in Eagan,
Minn., although officials with the academy have declined to describe why.
Within days of Mr. Moussaoui's arrest,
federal agents showed up at the Airman Flight School in Oklahoma, where
he had enrolled earlier in the year, said Dale Davis, director of
operations at the flight school. Mr. Davis said the agents took copies of
Mr. Moussaoui's immigration form and asked, among other things, whether
Mr. Moussaoui had ever made anti-American statements. Mr. Davis said he
told the agents that Mr. Moussaoui had not.
At the same time, investigators appeared to
be uncertain about the scope of the entire operation, particularly in
cities outside the Northeast. Several connections to San Antonio have
Albader Alhazmi, a 34-year-old radiologist
from San Antonio, is being held in New York as a material witness, one
official said. Dr. Alhazmi's home and workplace have been searched.
The internal debate at the Justice
Department and F.B.I. over wiretap surveillance of terrorist groups
ignited in March, prompted by questions raised by Royce C. Lamberth, the
chief judge of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, a
little-known panel that decides whether to approve Justice Department applications
to permit wiretaps and clandestine searches in espionage and
international terror cases.
In a letter to Attorney General Ashcroft,
Judge Lamberth raised questions about a wiretap request related to a
Hamas member, officials said. Under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance
Act, the F.B.I. must make applications, through the Justice Department,
to the surveillance court to authorize wiretaps and clandestine searches
of the homes and offices of suspected terrorists and spies.
The foreign surveillance act, passed in
1978 in the wake of Watergate and other revelations of abuses by the
F.B.I. and C.I.A., created a legal framework to allow the government to
eavesdrop on people considered dangerous to American national security,
even if prosecutors had not yet developed a criminal case against them.
The legal standards that the F.B.I. must
meet to obtain court authorization under the act are lower than the
probable cause required under most criminal cases. But that flexibility
comes with a cost: information gathered under the act can be used only in
criminal cases under highly limited conditions.
Civil liberties advocates have frequently
expressed concerns about whether the act allows the government to blur
the lines between intelligence gathering and criminal prosecutions.
Judge Lamberth's concerns about F.B.I.
applications to the court are apparently related to whether the bureau
was seeking wiretaps under the act on individuals without informing the
court of a subject's status pending criminal investigations.
The Bush administration team at the Justice
Department reacted to Judge Lamberth's complaints by opening an inquiry
into Michael Resnick, an F.B.I. official who coordinates the act's
Mr. Ashcroft and Robert S. Mueller III, now
director of the F.B.I., who at the time was temporarily serving as deputy
attorney general, ordered a review of foreign surveillance
authorizations. Louis J. Freeh, who was then the F.B.I. director, and
Lawrence Parkinson, the bureau's general counsel, ordered a review of
several applications in terrorism cases dating back several years.
Disclosure of the internal investigation of
the foreign intelligence process comes just as Mr. Ashcroft is seeking
Congressional support for an emergency package of anti-terrorism
legislation, including an expansion of the Justice Department's ability
to use wiretaps in cases of suspected terrorism or espionage.
Under his proposal, law enforcement agents
would have broad authority to conduct roving electronic surveillance of
suspected terrorists as they move from phone to phone or from computer
terminal to computer terminal.
Some officials argue that the current
system imposes burdens on the F.B.I. and Justice Department as they seek
to obtain wiretaps of suspected terrorists. Under the foreign
intelligence act, electronic surveillance authorization must be renewed
by the F.I.S.A. court every 90 days, and authorization for physical
search warrants must be renewed by the court every 45 days.
Applications surged after Tuesday's
attacks, officials said.